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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tete a tetes between policy makers early in Austen novels re relocation of the heroine

I can't believe that I only just a moment ago realized a salient, indeed crucial, parallel between Chapter 2 of S&S, when we listen to Fanny pretend to be generous to the Dashwood women, including the principal heroine, Elinor, in inducing the morally stunted, greedy John Dashwood to be cruel to them vis a vis a relocation from a long standing home, and....

...Chapter 1 of MP, when we listen to Mrs. Norris pretend to be generous to Mrs. Price and Fanny in inducing the morally stunted, greedy Sir Thomas to take Fanny from Portsmouth, but on "hard terms", so to speak.

The unreflective answer would be that JA was just doing exposition, and was not worried about repeating her technique for same from novel to novel. However, my answer is that the close _thematic_ parallelism across her novels, in so many ways is far beyond coincidence, and is not just because JA was a hack who repeated herself mindlessly. This is, in my very considered opinion, thematically significant.

And, upon further examination, there is some parallelism with the above two early passages with Chapter 5 of Emma, where Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston discuss Emma's future, in that the future of the heroine is discussed. But, you might object, where is the parallelism vis a vis relocation of the heroine? Well....that is precisely where I was leading.

Here is the beginning of the report of that conversation:

"I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightley, "of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing."

"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing? why so?"

"I think they will neither of them do the other any good."

As soon as I looked at that passage again, I realized that there is _nothing_ there to indicate that this was the beginning of the conversation between Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley. It is therefore perfectly plausible to infer that this _may_ be another one of those moments in _Emma_ fitting the following famous narration in the novel:

"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken..."

More specifically, I wonder if, earlier in the conversation (because in Shakespeare's plays, too, there are a number of scenes where the audience is not present at the beginning of a tete a tete, but instead is brought in to do its eavesdropping a few minutes _after_ the conversation has begun), there has been _another_ topic of conversation between Knightley and Mrs. Weston?

And what might that topic be? Is there a heroine handy to be relocated, whom they might have been discussing? If we look at the implicit calendar for the novel, based in part on what we learn in the second volume of the novel, we realize that this tete a tete is taking place shortly after Jane and Frank have had their time together in Weymouth. And also not long after Knightley's return from London, which is not only where John and Isabella live, but also Jane, with the Campbells. Hmm.....

In the talk I have given several times in England in the US, I start with the claim that Jane Fairfax is the shadow heroine of the novel. Is it possible that the relocation of Jane Fairfax to Highbury might have been the _first_ discussion item on the agenda of Knightley's and Mrs. Weston's tete a tete?

And finally, I asked myself, is there any _other_ passage in JA's novels where other characters have a comparable private discussion about plans for action that will result in the relocation of the heroine?

Of course, yes, there is one more--in Chapter 2 of Persuasion, Mr. Shepherd and Lady Russell begin to work on Sir Walter about retrenchment, apparently with no one else present, but then in Chapter 3, the conversation continues between Mr. Shepherd and Sir Walter, but this time with Anne present, and the result is....Anne's departure from Kellynch!

In fact, the only Austen novel _without_ such a tete a tete is Northanger Abbey--and I for one wish I had been a fly on the wall to hear the actual words spoken when Mr. and/or Mrs. Allen put heads together with Mr. and/or Mrs. Morland, and decided that Catherine would go to Bath with the Allens!

I need to go out now, and so will have to wait till a little later to check to see if any other commentator has previously connected the above dots, a string of "pearls" (forgive me for the eponymous pun) in a necklace composed of all the novels.

Cheers, ARNIE

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